Building my first Power BI dashboard

Microsoft recently wrapped up their annual conference, Ignite, and it further demonstrated Microsoft’s commitment to modernizing the workplace by offering technologies that improve how we communicate and collaborate. Over the last several years, I have blogged about the capabilities of numerous Microsoft 365 applications. I’ve made it my goal to understand use cases and the benefits of using the technology. What I haven’t done was spend a lot of time building solutions in Microsoft 365.

So, last week, I got to work.

I serve on the parks and recreation commission in my city, and I lead a subcommittee that makes recommendations on park renovation. We have been tracking assets in over 60 local parks. We track the age of assets and their condition in order to prioritize renovation projects. This has typically been done using a complex spreadsheet.

I decided to try my hand at building a Power BI dashboard to visualize the data. This blog will offer an overview of what I did and what I learned.

Getting the Data

The asset data was managed on a spreadsheet with tabs for each park site. I found it difficult to get a broader look at inventory and it was hard to see all the important data in one view. Even by applying filters in Excel, I couldn’t sort by condition, age, or cost.

I was able to request another spreadsheet from the city that had all assets on one spreadsheet. This was exactly what I needed! No calculations or formulas, just a list of assets with location and details. I would use this as my data source.

In evaluating the data, I had an idea that would benefit the city. We have talked about Microsoft Lists a lot here at Kiefer. We use Lists internally as a lightweight contact management system. Key information can be added to the list items making relevant information about our client available to any team member. I considered taking the spreadsheet and making a list item for every asset. This would allow users to update the condition of an item on a mobile device (using the Microsoft Lists app) while they are at a park site. This is a practical use case and could have significant benefits.

Building the Power BI Dashboard

I’ve had the benefit of attending Power BI Community Calls, business intelligence user groups, and have been fortunate to work around a talented group of consultants in Kiefer’s Data Analytics and Visualization Practice Group. These experiences had prepared me well as I connected to my data source and started building my very first Power BI dashboard.

We have written several articles about getting started with Power BI, so I followed the direction we’ve shared with our clients.

Tuning the look and feel of the dashboard was quite easy, as swapping out visualizations is very simple. You just have to click on the visualization you are interested in editing a select another visual from the palette.

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Creating the dashboard took me about 40 minutes from start to finish. But, since I was feeling comfortable and curious, I kept at it, refining and asking additional question that I had not considered. This is something we do with our clients as well. We begin by asking what questions would you like to easily answer with the dashboard. This frequently leads to several more questions after we present the initial proof-of-concept.

I was so enthusiastic about what I had done, I shared my dashboard with city staff. As I expected, they quickly saw the value and the application for the dashboard. We had a great discussion about the capabilities and how the solution could have benefits.

Here is the first dashboard I built using Microsoft Power BI.

Image of a proof on concept dashboard built by Kiefer employee, Brian Wallace.
The colorful pie chart and donut chart are interesting to look at, but our consultant pointed out some issues. More on that later in this blog.

Expert Insights

Even thought I was pretty happy with my dashboard, I had a few questions about building the dashboard. I had a few minutes late last week to show Scott Roberts what I had built. Scott had a quick look and shared some tips and best practices.

I asked him about the visualizations that I chose, and he suggested alternatives to the pie chart and donut chart which I had displayed prominently at the top of the dashboard. He explained that the colors were distracting and that the type of data I was sharing would be better communicated using bar charts. I swapped out my visualization and quickly recognized a significant improvement.

Image of a proof on concept dashboard built by Kiefer employee, Brian Wallace.
The two bar charts helped in delivering useful information in an easy to consume format.

This was an excellent opportunity to see how our consultants work with a client on a data project. It was great to hear his opinions on my dashboard and offer up suggestions on how to make it even better… and why.

Let us help you in building your first Power BI dashboard and work collaboratively with you and your team to establish a data culture that results in better insights and informed decisions based on data. Contact us for a free consultation.

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